*breaks the tension*

Let's talk Satire & Humor Festival! Let's smile smiles!

X Mayo, writer for The Daily Show. Photographer: Rafael Rautha

Hoo boy, my newsletters have been peak 2019 y’all and hella depressing. Suicide, being jealous of people going on vacation, life being disappointing and not lucrative, shuttering RAZED, abandoning resolutions, being mad about the inequality between fathers and mothers. This has been some kind of bullshit year (it’s only April LOL WTF) but I have got to lighten things up or I will unsubscribe from my own damn newsletter.

So basically with this newsletter I’ll be trying to say in 1000+ words what is best summed up at the 1:00-1:09 mark in Finding Nemo.

Let’s talk Satire & Humor Festival! Let’s talk tons of comedy links! Let’s talk winter is finally over here in Vermont which only took 18-1/2 months! Way to go, Vermont! I knew you could (eventually) do it!

Caitlin Kunkel contacted me a few months ago about a brand new festival she was co-producing. She asked if I would come, said maybe there’d be a book panel, and Emma Allen had already committed. That was December 31st. I booked my ticket January 4th not knowing what exactly would be happening, who else would be there, or what involvement (if any) I would have. It says a lot about both my desire to travel to NYC as a “business” “expense” and the fact that there was nothing else like what she (and her co-producers, James Folta and Tulio Espinoza) were proposing. Satire and humor writing isn’t always stand-up. It’s rarely flashy. And it sure as hell isn’t lucrative, for most people anyway. Although there are all kinds of overlap and subsets in this group—late night TV writers, authors, comedians—most satire writers have day jobs and writing is a sideline.

As much as we all complain about the internet, this community wouldn’t exist in quite the same way without it. While a lot of writers are based in NYC, many aren’t. In fact, two of the writers I was most excited to meet in person came from Ohio and Maine. And because many of the connections we had were all online—between Binders and The Belladonna—I had the same takeaway as Rebecca Saltzman. It’s a pretty incredible thing in this day and age to truly feel like comedy in any form is a chick thing and that you *actually forgot* it’s something men do too, because your sense of community is just that strong.

I won’t recap it event by event because booooor-inggggg but this is what still stands out to me a month later:

Spearheaded by Irving Ruan (a man who writes satire?? You go Irving!), a few of us met up for dinner before heading out to the opening night drinks get together thing (I am articulate!) Even though it was an “unofficial” “festival” “event” it was my first indication of what I was missing by not having an irl writing community. Writing humor has been a huge part of my life for the past 4-5 years but this work I love, the people who write it, and the conversations about it only exist online for me. It was a welcome feeling to be able to talk about writing in person. We had a superstar table (Riane Konc, Sarah Hutto, Mia Mercado, Lucy Huber, and yeah no other dudes aside from Irving as it turns out hmmmm suspicious) and honestly it was an honor just to be nominated / invited.

The organizers expected about 40-60 people to attend the get-acquainted-drinks thing. Over 100 showed up. It was loud. It was full of, dare I say, giddy energy? I was, dare I say, full of sweat? I met more people in three hours than I’ve met in three years. At 10:30 I panicked I was losing my voice from 5 straight hours of talking then shout-talking so I fled. IT WAS A GREAT NIGHT.

The reflection off my sweat almost makes me invisible to the naked eye. Sarah Hutto has pretty hair that *I will* touch next time.

There had been approximately 8 billion jokes about how meeting everyone in person felt like a convention of talking and moving avatars. While depressing as general commentary, it was also highly accurate. Most of us knew each other only by our handles or the most popular pieces we had written.

The wonderful and smart thing about that first night is it gave everyone a built-in / I-talked-to-you-last-night / I-know-your-face community for the rest of the weekend. It was like having the summer BBQ before your first day of kindergarten except for introverted grownups who write themselves into a black hole.

I was signed up to teach a workshop, participate in a book panel, and do a reading. And that’s also the order in which I organized my nervousness initially, with the workshop being the thing I was most freaked out about. That order completely reversed itself two weeks before the festival when I realized I was much, much more nervous about the reading even though it was just a five minute commitment. Prior to my book tour I put an enormous amount of effort into working through my anxiety over public speaking. I’ve learned a lot since then in general and specifically about which elements trigger my nerves. Panels? No, they’re easy! Workshops? Turns out, although I had never taught one in my life, I wasn’t nervous at all and really enjoyed teaching. Was the workshop perfect? No, no it was not. But I would love to teach more and keep improving. But a reading? In front of ALL THE PEOPLE WHO HAD COME TO THE FESTIVAL? In the same lineup as writers who are McSweeney’s legends, New Yorker legends (everyone?), viral Medium legends, late night writers for Seth Myers, Colbert, Wyatt Cenac's Problem Areas, Our Cartoon President, AND with the humor editor of The New Yorker in the audience? Wow, fuck that is all I can say about saying yes to that fucking thing.

Except: it was great. My nerves settled down. The energy that James Folta in particular brought to that event was warm and supportive and loose — exactly the opposite of my energy which was akin to panicking bees being shaken relentlessly in a glass jar. When I think about that night, where just about all of it was 100% a brand new experience for me, I’m like, “Well yeah you were actually right to be terrified. You don’t like not knowing things.” I didn’t know how the curtain worked, where the opening was. It makes me sound very stupid and bOnKeRs to admit that yet here we are. I watched that curtain like a hawk as every person got off / on the stage. I didn’t know if I was supposed to talk about the piece first or just dive into it (I dove into it, I AM NOT A STAND-UP), I still love that I was concerned over perhaps being last in the lineup (HELLOOOO LAST IS FOR HEADLINERS DUMMY). But once I was out there and started reading and got laughs I had … fun? I really did. I was hard on myself afterward and still think about things I would do differently but, like the workshop, I remind myself that jeez it was the first time I ever did a group reading! I deserve some slack. And although on the face of it, the lineup was intimidating credits-wise, everyone was really lovely person-wise.

“Everyone is really lovely person-wise” would be a very on point tagline for the entire festival. I hate the phrase “on point” but I’ll allow it.

It took so long for me to get around to writing this newsletter that a piece read by Evan Waite—that absolutely killed that night—ended up being bought by The New Yorker and it ran in print last week! You’ll find it here. My piece … was also for sale (I didn’t know that was an option??) … but anyway :(

Late Night Writers Panel. Photographer: Rafael Rautha

There was a kinship, sense of support, and vibe of Mutual Admiration Society that ran through the entire festival, through every event. Networking and Q&A were built into just about every panel or event and it helped broadcast the feeling that no matter who you are or what stage you’re at, you can do this too. I can’t think of anyone who wasn’t a fan of someone else there, making it feel like a space that was absent of the impenetrable hierarchy that permeates so many festivals / conferences / whatevers.

It’s only been a month since that weekend and, in many ways, I feel like I’m still coming down from it. I’m already excited for next year and come hell or high water, I’ll be there. I don’t know what involvement I’ll have (if any), I may have hit saturation point out of the gate! But what I’ve learned is it’s crucial for me to keep pushing myself even when I feel uncomfortable or freaked out, that I really do have an entire other community that exists in this world, and there are always new goals to aim for and big swings to take.

Me very timidly showing off my book cover during the book panel. Photographer: Samuel Burriss

In the lag between getting back to regular life and finally writing this, I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. There were a lot—and I do mean a lot—of jokes leading up to and throughout the festival about introverts, social anxiety, and awkwardness. But you’d never guess any of that was an issue if you’d been dropped into any of these events. Plenty of talking, socializing, laughing, and (possibly deceptive?) extroversion were on display. What I realized in reading Quiet is that satire writing is a perfect fit for introverts — because introverts are studying studying studying everything and trying to make sense of it all without necessarily hungering for attention. And when it comes to performing their work or mingling, they’re rising above their introverted tendencies because what they’re doing is so important to them, it’s worth the trade off.

A very serious shot of a seriously fun book panel. Photographer: Samuel Burriss

This from pg. 210 especially caught my attention: “According to Free Trait Theory, we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits—introversion, for example—but we can and do act out of character in the service of ‘core personal projects’.”

As the author goes more in depth into this in her book, it made me realize how common this seems to be in the writing community in general. I know I seesawed between feeling energized and exhausted all weekend and it took me a week to recover after it was over. It’s the same experience I had on my book tour. I’ve talked to many people who seem completely at ease at their readings or performances but will tell me they’re practically catatonic after. What Quiet made me realize is introversion isn’t bad, unlike what American culture tells us. It’s not something to be fixed and it’s not a flaw. It’s just a different way of interacting with the world that can have some pretty powerful (and pretty funny) results.

If you’re looking for another take on the festival, check out Caitlin Kunkel’s newsletter and subscribe! If you know of other recaps, send them along and I’ll include them in a future newsletter. To sign up for updates on the next festival (along with events and workshops that will be happening throughout the year), drop your email here.

Ain’t no beer like a half-chugged post-reading beer. Fight me.

• McSWEENEY’S: This timely one for McSweeney’s pubbed the day after The Mueller Report was released! 1) I only had a 30 minute window to write it so thank you Jesus for searchable PDFs. 2) I will go back to the Radiohead well as often as I’m allowed.
• OTHER HUMOR: I have pieces forthcoming in The New Yorker (yes I know I’ve been saying this for almost 4 months now, I swear I’m not lying I just don’t know the date yet!), LitHub, and Airbnb Magazine.
• AMATEUR HOUR for MOTHER’S DAY: We’re just two weeks way from Mother’s Day but never fear! You can still get a signed / personalized copy of AMATEUR HOUR mailed to you or your mother-person from my local bookstore Phoenix Books. If you’re local, you can shave that deadline even closer! All the details are here.

• HUMOR: This is, by far, the most fucked up, most utterly BANANAS, most off the charts weird ass parenting thing I have ever read AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH.
• DIPSHIT: Yes, dipshit. Guaranteed the best piece you will ever read about this word. From The Paris Review (right?! I know.)
• LATE NIGHT: Considering writing for late night? Tons of great insights and advice here from Sara Schaefer re: submitting your packet. Followed up with this advice on how to find the opportunities to submit.
• PODCAST: It feels like there is a middle school-themed renaissance happening, one that is ironically not appropriate to share with your actual middle schoolers. We’ve got absolute perfection as demonstrated by Big Mouth and Pen15. And I would like to add a much more obscure / far less dirty yet no less delightful entry with the podcast The Jedediaries. It’s genuinely funny, a touching portrait of friendship then and now, and I was never prepared for all the emotional curveballs along the way (much like middle school.) “25 years ago, a 12-year-old boy kept a diary. He wrote in it every single day of the year 1993. This year – 2018 – that boy is a 37-year-old man, and he's going through that diary, week by week, to see how he's different, how he's the same, and what we can learn by figuring out who we used to be.”
• CREATIVE MORNINGS: This wonderful Creative Mornings talk by Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge, is the sort of emotional, real talk that anyone who’s making big uncertain leaps, walking away from sure things, and/or truly hungering for more connection in real life needs to hear. 😭😭😭
• NEW COMEDY ON NETFLIX: This is the first time I loved an interview so much I was all in on a show I had never even heard of. I’m 6 episodes in and it’s just so good.
• SNL: This is highly relevant to my interests and also utterly perfect. “Wes Anderson Horror Trailer”

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